|Final Report of the Task Force on|
Community School District Governance Reform
February 15, 2003
Co-Chairs: Assemblyman Steven Sanders
Task force members:
Hon. John Lavelle
Hon. Audrey Pheffer
Hon. Peter Rivera
Hon. Roger Green
Renee C. Hill
C. Bunny Reddington
SECTION 1. FOREWORD
The mission of every public school district is to provide an environment for its teachers to teach and for its students to learn. There must exist a relentless focus on advancing the things which will help facilitate classroom instruction and to insure that educational policies which are developed and adopted are done through a public and transparent process.
In fulfilling its mission public school districts must be organized in such a fashion so to insure that parents are true partners in the education of their children and that education professionals and decision makers are not isolated from the larger community and parents which they serve.
Quality public education is a vital concern to every resident of the city. Without a well educated, knowledgeable citizenry the entire fabric of our city suffers and the future of our city is diminished. Quality public education is also a vital concern to business leaders who understand that the future of their companies and industry is inextricably connected to an education system that provides students with the skills and intellectual capital for the 21st century jobs.
Consequently the organization and policies of a public education system is a vested interest for the entire city community.
For these reasons and others, public education has always and must always involve the public in the decision making process. In most instances parents and the surrounding community do not want to run schools but they certainly do want well run schools and they want and deserve both access to decision makers and a transparency of policy implementation so that the decisions which are ultimately made by those responsible can be informed by the various stakeholders. In the final analysis these policies must be understandable and effectively disseminated.
It is in this spirit and with these goals in mind that the Task Force On Community School District Governance Reform began its work in November 2002 and completed its work with a set of recommendations endorsed by the Task Force on February 12, 2003.
These recommendations are respectfully submitted to the State Legislature and the Governor in accordance with the law. It is the hope of the Task Force that a well considered and speedy adoption of a new Community Governance structure will be made by the State.
SECTION 2. HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE AND CREATION OF TASK FORCE ON COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT GOVERNANCE REFORM
On June 14, 2002 Governor George E. Pataki signed into law a bill which revamps the entire New York City School Governance system. Among the many and comprehensive changes in the law (Chapter 91 of Laws of 2002), this legislation abolishes the elected local community school boards at the end of the current school year June 30, 2003.
During the preceding number of years, with notable exceptions, there has been a general dissatisfaction with the performance and at times the conduct of Community School Boards. Moreover the overly cumbersome and complicated method of School Board Election voting has also contributed to public apathy for Community School Boards and the process of electing members. With rare exceptions, school board election turnout hovered around 5%.
To help remedy this situation, over the past decade the State Legislature has taken several steps to engender greater public confidence in school boards including legislation which insures that school board members not be employees of the local school District or in other respects to insure that there exists no conflict of interest or personal gain that might be derived by a school board member. In addition, persons removed or suspended from a school board were limited in their ability to run for re-election.
In 1996 the State Legislature passed and the Governor signed into law (Chapter 720), legislation which further circumscribed the powers of school boards by limiting their previous unilateral authority to make employment related decisions for that school District, including their power to hire a community school District superintendent. The legislation further specified powers granted to the chancellor regarding his abilities to intervene when community school Districts fail to meet performance or accountability standards; when school board members had acted inappropriately and also required greater financial disclosure by community school board members.
In 1998 the State Legislature passed and the Governor signed into law Chapter 149 which reformed the method of the school board elections by replacing the system of "Proportional Voting" to "Limited Voting". It was the hope of the State Legislature that "Limited Voting" which finally provided elections to be conducted on voting machines instead of paper ballots, eliminated the complicated tabulation and insured that the nine candidates who were successful were the nine candidates who secured the most total votes. These measures it was hoped would restore both an understanding and confidence in the voting structure.
Unfortunately, the Federal Department of Justice refused to give approval to this method of voting under its jurisdiction granted to it by the Federal Voting Rights Act and enforcement regulations. Consequently the original method of proportional voting continued.
Although Chapter 91 of the Laws of 2002 abolished the current structure relating to school boards and school board elections, the law did not abolish the 32 current community school Districts or alter their boundaries. The law anticipates some form of continued local school District governance to insure that communities and parents would continue to have access and input into local school District matters. To facilitate such a new structure of community representation the law authorized the creation of a Task Force on Community School District Governance Reform (Task Force) and established the composition of the Task Force to be comprised of twenty members - all residents of New York City. The Speaker of the Assembly was provided with ten appointments and the Senate Majority Leader was provided with ten appointments.
On October 31, 2002 the Assembly Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader announced their appointments and designated Assemblyman Steven Sanders and Terri Thomson as Task Force Co-Chairs. The Law required that the Task Force convene five public hearings to be held in each borough of the City of New York and to conduct such other meetings necessary to obtain information to help assist in the formulation of recommendations as to how local community school boards will be replaced. The law further stipulated that the Task Force submit a final report containing its proposal and recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature by February 15, 2003.
To that end and in furtherance of the provisions contained in the law, the Task Force convened five public hearings around the City: December 10, 2002 in Manhattan; December 12, 2002 in Queens; December 19, 2002 in the Bronx; January 6, 2003 on Staten Island; and January 16, 2003 in Brooklyn. All tolled, the Task Force completed approximately 50 hours of public testimony and received other written communications. All public hearings were recorded by a stenographer and were in compliance with the Open Meetings Law.
In addition, the Task Force held eight meetings - November 15, 2002; November 26, 2002; January 23, 2003; January 30, 2003; January 31, 2003; February 6, 2003; February 7, 2003; and February 12, 2003. All of those Task Force meetings also were conducted in compliance with the Open Meetings Law.
As a result of the hearings and meetings held by the Task Force, a series of recommendations are made to replace the current school boards consistent with the mandate given to the Task Force in Chapter 91 of the Laws of 2002.
It is the hope and the belief of the Task Force that if enacted into law and implemented, these recommendations will foster an environment for meaningful parental and community representation and input at the local community school District level and within their component schools. It is furthermore the belief of the Task Force that meaningful engagement of parents and the community is ultimately necessary for an overall system of school governance to be successful.
SECTION 3. RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE TASK FORCE
The Task Force, in its charge to recommend a proposal for a meaningful role for parents and the community in local school governance, was guided by a set of principles and goals:
The primary goal of any governance structure shall be to continuously assist in improving the schools so that all students may achieve academic standards and realize their fullest potential.
To accomplish this, the Task Force agreed on several important cornerstones:
Accountability and Transparency
Community District Education Councils
The Task Force recommends that a there be established in each of the 32 community school Districts a new District board to be called the Community District Education Council. They shall be comprised of 11 members from the following categories:
The Community District Education Council will:
CITYWIDE SPECIAL EDUCATION DISTRICT
The Task Force recommends that there be created a new board for the Citywide Special Education District. That board shall also be comprised of 11 members, consisting of 8 parents elected by parents of students attending a school in the Citywide Special Education District provided, however, that at least one reside in each borough; 2 persons with experience or knowledge of the disability community selected by the Speaker of the NYC Council; and one high school senior selected by the Superintendent. The members of this board will serve for two years on a staggered basis. However, the student member shall serve for one year but may be reappointed by the Superintendent.
All legal or regulatory qualifications and requirements that pertain to the member of the Community District Education Council will also apply to the board members representing the Citywide Special Education District.
The Task Force acknowledges that the most significant interaction between the parent and the school system often occurs at the school level. In 1996, the New York State Legislature's school governance legislation mandated that the Chancellor create effective school leadership teams in every New York City school by October 1, 1999. The School Leadership Teams (SLTs), focusing on shared collaborative decision-making, have three critical functions:
In addition to the current guidelines in The Chancellor's Plan for School Leadership Teams, the following are recommendations by the Task Force to strengthen School Leadership Teams:
SECTION 4. AFTERWORD SUBMITTED BY CO-CHAIRS STEVEN SANDERS
AND TERRI THOMSON
The Task Force set out to develop a new form of engagement and responsibility, one that has as its primary goal a focus on student achievement and a strengthening of the education system.
We wish to express our appreciation to Speaker Sheldon Silver and Majority Leader Joseph Bruno for having established this Task Force and for giving us the opportunity to lead it. We are particularly grateful to Mr. Silver and Mr. Bruno for appointing the other eighteen remarkable New Yorkers to this body. All served with enormous energy, dedication and intellect. All twenty members of the Task Force quickly coalesced, worked collegially with the single goal in mind of doing the very best to make recommendations that will improve the quality of education in New York City.
We can report, from our experience in conducting the forums throughout the city, that education is a passionate concern of people across neighborhoods, economic status and ethnic groups. The Task Force can state with conviction that interest in education is high even though there had been general discontent with the local community school boards and the complicated election process. Through fifty hours of public hearings throughout the City of New York we heard:
Without local representation, parents and local communities fear that they will be marginalized if not lost in the huge centralized system. Much testimony was heard by the Task Force from parents and other community stakeholders that a new system of local governance must insure that the public continues to have local points of entry and that unique neighborhood concerns about education be addressed. In that regard we believe that all City and education leaders should continue to be mindful of current education law with respect to the organization of school Districts. Existing Education Law (Section 2590-b.3 (c) (1) clearly requires that each community District: "Shall be a suitable size for efficient policy making and economic management; contain a reasonable number of pupils; be compact and contiguous, contained within county lines and to the maximum extent possible keep intact communities and neighborhoods; and bear a rational relationship to geographic areas for which the city of New York plans and provides services." We believe that our recommendations and comments support both the spirit and the letter of the existing State Education Law.
While we note that the legislative mandate given to this Task Force was quite narrow: "To develop a proposal and make recommendations regarding the Community School Boards and their powers and duties", the Task Force is mindful that its recommendations need to relate to the entire Education Law. While beyond the specific scope of this Task Force, there are areas of concern that were articulated to the Task Force that should be noted. As the Mayor and Chancellor unfold the tenets of their reorganization, we suggest it be recognized that for thousands of high school students a different path is available through the career and technical schools. The needs of these schools and their students must be accounted for with input on those policies by the public as well.
The local community governance structure cannot exist in a vacuum. It must be logically connected with and accountable to the rest of the citywide educational governance structure - the Chancellor, the new citywide Board of Education and the Superintendents. It is our hope that school governance and management structures will be cohesively aligned so that the entire public school system in New York City is finally coherent, accountable, transparent and representative.
The Task Force recognizes its important responsibility in formulating these recommendations. We believe that these recommendations will foster an environment for meaningful parental and community representation and input consistent with the provisions for overall school governance. The Task Force believes that nothing less than the meaningful engagement of parents, educators and the community in a partnership for education is necessary for an overall system of school governance to be successful. And the ultimate measure of success will be improved education results and an environment in which learning and achievement are valued.